Where Hawaiians Went to Die

What better way to follow up my maudlin Pearl Harbor experience than a visit to Molokai, land of fatal disease and forced isolation. Fun!

Turns out it actually was fun. And fascinating. Sad, definitely. Also, beautiful.

Where Hawaiians Went to Die  You can read more about Molokai’s Kalaupapa National Historical Park here, but the gist is that outsiders brought leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) to Hawaiians in the early 1800s. (I’m thinking a nice bottle of Malbec would have been a better gift, but that’s just me.)

By 1866 the disease was so rampant, the Hawaiian government decided the smart thing to do would be to round up all the sufferers and ship them off to Molokai, forcing them to leave family and friends and live out the remainder of their short lives without their loved ones.

Like I said. Fun!

To visit the park you have to buy a tour (I think it was about $300), which includes a flight in a commuter plane from Oahu (you can also catch it from Maui). Have I mentioned I had a friend and most of his family die in a Cessna crash when I was in high school? And that ever since I’ve been terrified of small planes? So basically this trip to Molokai was going to be one big terror and sadness-fest?

Instead of debating if I fit the DSM profile of masochism or not, let’s just look at some photos, shall we?

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Me and my tourmates.

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Kalaupapa Airport – Tiny Runway, Tiny Planes

But you know what’s weird? I loved the flight. I got to sit in the cockpit and it made all the difference. (Bada bing!) Which is strange, since sitting in the cockpit with glass on three sides feels as if you’re moments from plummeting to your death, like walking a tightrope between two really tall buildings, except without the tightrope. (I’d say I just answered that question about the DSM profile.)

Maybe it’s that you feel so close to the landscape you forget about the tiny (terrifying) plane? I don’t know, but that flight was the best thing about the tour:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

How can one pilot watch all those dials? HOW?

Molokai apparently has the tallest sea cliffs in the world:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Molokai, Unfettered

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Cliffside

We toured the island in a school bus:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Our Ride

And met one of the locals:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Move on, tourist.

The natives don’t engage, and we were encouraged to leave them alone if we saw them. Not because they’re contagious – a cure for Hansen’s was discovered in the 1930s – but because the people living there aren’t tourist attractions, they’re people with homes and families. So mostly we saw buildings:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Broken and Beautiful

And churches:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

One of many on the island.

That’s Father Damien in the front. He moved to Molokai in the 1870s and helped the patients live full lives, instead of just sitting on the island waiting to die. Father Damien lost his own life to the disease at age 49, and his selflessness is almost unimaginable to me.

It may have helped a little to be surrounded by gorgeous vistas:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Would you ever become immune to this view?

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Or this?

But, of course, there were plenty of graveyards:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Walking among the dead.

But amidst all this, the locals have a sense of humor:

Where Hawaiians Went to Die

Wilson

And that cheered me. Next up: Maui. The non-tsunami version.

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